At The Washington Monthly, Bill Scher weighs in on the importance of swing voters:
Swing Voters Exist: “Modern elections don’t turn on capturing a mythical ‘center,’ they turn on activating, expanding, and mobilizing your base and demoralizing the opposition,” wrote the progressive commentator Jamelle Bouie for Slate in 2018. Fresh from her first primary election win in that same year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “Our swing voter is not red-to-blue. Our swing voter is the voter to the non-voter, the non-voter to the voter.”
The jolt of Donald Trump’s fluky 2016 Electoral College victory turbocharged such simplistic conclusions, though they initially sprang from more nuanced data-driven analyses, like Alan I. Abramowitz’s 2011 book The Disappearing Center and the 2012 academic paper from Andrew Gelman, David Rothschild, Sharad Goel, and Doug Rivers titled “The Mythical Swing Voter.”
The academic debate has ideological overtones. If elections are primarily won with base turnout, then Democrats should move farther to the left without fear of alienating moderates. If not, then Democrats need to be more careful about their mix of issue positions.
In 2022, we got a crystal-clear answer: Swing voters exist, and they swung.
As Nate Cohn reported, “Final turnout data shows that registered Republicans turned out at a higher rate—and in some places a much higher rate—than registered Democrats, including in many of the states where Republicans were dealt some of their most embarrassing losses,” particularly Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. Cohn also notes that preliminary data suggests that the African American share of the electorate might have “sank to its lowest level since 2006.” Without swing voters, Democrats would have lost the Senate.
“Knowing that swing voters exist doesn’t mean that progressive ideas must be jettisoned to win them over,” Scher concludes. “But just because wooing swing voters is tricky doesn’t merit waving them away as mythical unicorns.”